The death of fact checking

You probably made more money in the stock market than Mo Islam did.

Islam is the 17-year-old kid featured in New York Magazine claiming he made over $70 million trading stocks between classes.

It made him #12 on its list of “Reasons to Love New York.”

After Mo became a celebrity, things got a little awkward at school. (“Aren’t you the kid who made all that money?” a teacher asked him.) So he “reconnected” with kids from his old school, Allen-Stevenson. One of them introduced him to Patrick, an aspiring financier, who introduced him to Damir at a poker game attended by kids whose parents are, according to Damir, “the one percent of the one percent.”

The son of a Kazakh oligarch, Damir is tall, slim, and cocky, like a cigarette wearing a fedora. “I call the poker game ‘Destiny,'”he said. The waitress arrived with a plate. “Here, have some caviar.”

Over late nights out and dinners at Morimoto, the three hatched a plan to start a hedge fund. “There are a lot of steps we have to follow through,” said Patrick, calling to mind a more serious Chuck Bass. “But we’re on the right track.” They plan to launch in June, after Mo turns 18 and can get his broker-dealer license. “Mo’s our maestro,” Patrick said. “He’s going to be earning the big bucks. We’re just going to try to fill his needs.”

Reason #11 is “because you can fake your way into the city’s media.”

Islam admitted last evening that the whole story is fake. He not only didn’t make over $70 million, he didn’t make anything. Zero. Nada.

The editor’s note now attached to the story is an instant classic.

Editor’s note: Mohammed Islam has denied that he made $72 million on the stock market. Our story portrays the $72 million figure as a rumor; the initial headline has been changed to more clearly reflect the fact that we did not know the exact figure he has made in trades. However, Mohammed provided bank statements that showed he is worth eight figures, and he confirmed on the record that he’s worth eight figures.

It’s the latest stain on the concept of fact checking.

The story started to unravel when business channel CNBC was set to interview him, but it didn’t pass “the small test.”

So old school.

Related: ‘It’s been a tough month for factchecking.’ (Poynter).

  • Wow.

    Even when I try to confirm or refute a “fact” in one of my internet arguments I try my best to fact check using reputable sources.

    Why have “journalists” become so lazy?

    • I don’t think they have. I just think there are more people calling themselves “journalists.” But the story unraveled almost immediately. But it’s far too easy now to get your fake stuff into a story because there are so many different ways to do it now.

      • Gary F

        Bob, did you have “narrative journalism” classes in college?

        • No, but I don’t think this story is an example of narrative journalism, which has its roots, I think, in a principle that I tend to agree with — that personal stories are a compelling way to relate an example of a larger issue.

          My work in Moorhead during the Red River flood of 2009 is something I would consider narrative journalism.

          But I also think that definition of narrative journalism is being wrongly changed to “make it up” journalism and I don’t think that’s all consistent with its original definition.

      • >> I just think there are more people calling themselves “journalists.”<<

        That's why i put quotes around "journalists."


  • Gary F

    If this is the death of fact checking, where does Rolling Stone’s UVA Rape story by Sabrina Rubin Erdley fall?

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    Politifact rated it partially true on account of the kid does have time between classes.

  • Carol S.

    Many newsrooms (mostly print, but some broadcast) once had librarians and fact checkers that looked at this very type of information. Sadly, many newsrooms have eliminated those positions, leaving that work to reporters.

    • davehoug

      Cuts have consequences. When every person can write a blog and call himself a reporter, the industry lost a level of public trust……same with “We reported there is a rumor, which is true. We did not take a position on if the rumor was actually true.” style of get in fast, not accurate, selling of news.